MOUTH OF THE ELK - Roberts Says There Is Payback, Ross Says He's Not Guilty, Ms. Mezz Has Ethics Charges

ROBERTS SAYS BENJAMIN SHOULD RECUSE HIMSELF - United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts says newly elected Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin should recuse himself from any cases involving Massey Energy.

Roberts said the $3.5 million Massey CEO Don Blankenship pumped into the campaign to defeat McGraw and the group "And For the Sake of Kids" is more than questionable.

"There's no way in the world someone can invest $3.5 million in a particular candidate, regardless of what that office might be, and not expect something in return," said Roberts.

"This 'For the Sake of the Kids' organization should've really been named For the Sake of Massey Energy or For the Sake of Don Blankenship."

Roberts said "I think those involved every day in the judicial system in West Virginia are taking a step back from this and saying do we have to change the way we provide Supreme Court justices in West Virginia."

FORMER SENATOR ROSS SAYS HE DID NOT BENEFIT - Former state Senator Mike Ross went before the Ethics Commission to tell his side of the story about a March vote that he says helped keep him from being re-elected.

The ethics complaint alleges the Randolph County Democrat used his public office for private gain by voting to spend $750,000 state dollars from an Economic Development Fund to promote a tournament at the Pete Dye Golf Club.

In 2001, Ross and fellow oil and gas businessman Ike Morris lent about $7.7 million to the LaRosa family, who are coal operators and developers in north-central West Virginia. That money gave Ross lifetime perks at the club as well as deeds to nearby land.

Ross and Morris received more than 160 acres of land near the golf course. Ross said Tuesday that land was collateral for the loan, as well as coal property in northern Harrison County.

Ross claims the state money did not go directly to the club, but funded the tournament purse and paid The Golf Channel to televise it. Ross claims he benefited no more than any of the club's 500 other members.

During the hearing, Ross' lawyer made a distinction between Ross and the company Mike Ross Inc. that actually made the loan, not Ross personally. Hearing Examiner Katherine Dooley asked who the other stockholders were. Ross replied, "Just me."

The hearing examiner expects to recommend a ruling to the full Ethics Commission in February.

STAFFERS SAY WARNER NOT BEING TRUTHFUL - Staffers have charged that Republican Monty Warner omitted an estimated $250,000 in unpaid bills last week when he reported $450,000 in campaign debts from his failed bid for governor.

The debts left off of his post-election finance filing include about $75,000 in pay owed Campaign Manager Dick Leggitt and Sam Pimm.

"My kids are expecting Christmas presents, and I haven't had any indication from the Warner campaign about when I will be paid," said Pimm, who has been looking for work since Warner's defeat. "They are pretending that they don't owe this money," he said.

Leggitt said the report omits or reduces amounts owed seven staffers, nine consultants and 26 vendors.

"For whatever reason, Monty is not being truthful about the extent of the campaign's obligations," said Leggitt.

Warner said he is reviewing "contested debts" with an accountant and a lawyer.

MS. MEZZ BEING INVESTIGATED - The state Ethics Commission has started an investigation into whether the wife of Delegate Jerry Mezzatesta ran a video poker machine company from the House Education Committee offices at the Capitol, according to the Charleston Gazette.

A panel of three Ethics Commission members has determined that the complaint, if true, could constitute a violation of state ethics law, according to a letter sent by the agency last week. Commission investigator John Weaver has been assigned to the case.

A citizens group alleges that Mary Lou Mezzatesta used a House Education office computer and fax machine to operate Viking Vending Services, a private company that she runs.

Mezzatesta also worked as a part-time legislative assistant to her husband during regular legislative sessions.

The Mezzatestas' were fined $500 and placed on 90 days' probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanor charges that they destroyed or altered legislative computer records. Some of the destroyed records were related to Viking Vending.

Greg Campbell, attorney for Mary Lou Mezzatesta, said that Mezzatesta wasn't a state employee when the ethics complaint was filed, and Mezzatesta doesn't work for the state now.